Leadership Imperative: Look in the Mirror

Christine Moore, PMP, CPF - December 2011

It's an interesting paradox. We live with ourselves everyday, in fact every second of everyday, and yet there are aspects of ourselves we are not fully in touch with, and some we're completely ignorant of. Perhaps it's because we don't have an objective position. We can't stand aside from ourselves and observe, so we're left with intermittent feedback from others which, let's face it, is enticingly easy to reason away or disregard altogether. More helpful would be a mirror that allowed us to see beyond our physical reflection into the deeper parts of ourselves at play on a daily basis.

Why Leadership Requires a Mirror

Early in our career we probably felt pressure to know and acquire skills within specific subject-matters. Early on, what we accomplish as individuals drives our careers. However, as our career progresses we are increasingly measured by what we accomplish through others and our subject-matter expertise no longer suffices. How others perceive us, and consequently the power and influence they grant us, become very important. Additionally, the paradigm of leadership is changing. Increasingly the leadership conversation emphasizes authenticity, transparency, and credibility right up there with competency. Being authentic (true to who I really am), and transparent (letting others see who I am and what I know), and credible (establishing congruency between what I say and what I do) starts with actually knowing myself.

What's to Know?

So what should leaders look for in the mirror—what's important for us to know about ourselves?

Know Your Personal Values

Start with the basics. Put a name to what is important to you. In one of our leadership workshops we ask participants to name five personal values—five things really important to them. For example, empathy is one of my values. That is, being empathetic is important to me. I value it in myself, and I value it in others. If I hadn't paid attention to myself enough to realize this, I would miss opportunities to align my actions with this value and thus establish credibility with others. It also give me clues as to why certain behaviors in others upset me, or conversely inspire me. I find that when people fail to recognize the perspective of others I lose patience with them. I've come to realize that rather than thinking less of people who may have overlooked what appears to be an obvious point-of-view I can help them see it.

Know Your Tendencies

How am I apt to act in a given situation? This is a bit more difficult to get in touch with. How do I react under stress, or when I'm really excited? How do I take in and process the world around me? How do I make decisions? Am I more apt to seek out or avoid risk? What value do I bring to a team, and what do I most rely on team members for? Just contemplating these questions reminds us that we are unique and different from others. A strong understanding of our tendencies allows us to anticipate and prepare for specific leadership situations.

Leadership Mirrors

Finding ways to glimpse our own reflection can be challenging, and some mirrors provide more meaningful looks than others. Every leader has to find meaningful mirror/s. Here are two ways to start:


Don't wait for it, ask for it. Ask your manager, your colleagues, your direct reports, your team members—anyone who can provide a glimpse. You could ask for specific feedback about your handling of a situation, or general feedback regarding some aspect of your job or a role you routinely play. Here are some tips when seeking feedback:

  1. Make sure you actually want it before you ask. Your request must be taken as authentic or the feedback won't be.
  2. Ask people you respect. Or you're likely to disregard what they tell you anyway.
  3. Be specific. Be as specific as you can in your request—this makes it easier for the person you're asking. Ask for specifics (like examples) which leave less room for interpretation.
  4. Time your request. It's difficult for someone to provide feedback if they haven't worked with you in awhile, and their feedback is subject to the inevitable distortion of time. You are also more likely to disregard feedback from situations in the past with an "I've changed since then" mentality.
  5. Never debate the feedback. You asked! What you get is what you get. Of course you will need to sort through the feedback to find what's most useful, but consider all feedback an opportunity to glimpse in the mirror. Remember the hardest points to hear may be the most useful.
  6. Let people know how you will use their feedback.


In addition to asking for feedback there are many helpful assessments to gain very specific glimpses. As leaders we can seek out assessments that will shine light on very specific aspects of ourselves and even specific leadership topics.

In the category of personality (what makes you you) here are three popular assessment tools and links to more information:

  1. Myers Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®)
  2. DiSC®
  3. Personalysis

Other assessments:

Conflict Management: Thomas-Kilman Conflict Mode® (TKI)
Emotional Intelligence: Emotional and social competency inventory (ESCI)
Discovering your strengths: StrengthsFinder®
Career Development: Strong Interest Inventory®
Interpersonal Needs: FIRO-B® and FIRO Business®

Tips for using assessments

  1. Understand what the assessment is striving to measure, and seek proof of its validity.
  2. Seek assessments accompanied by supporting materials. If you can't understand or put your results to use, you won't learn anything about yourself.
  3. Seek assessments that not only tell you something about yourself, but give you a glimpse of the rest of the world.
  4. Strive to use assessments that others in your organization are using. This allows the organization to establish a common vocabulary. An assessment's usefulness grows exponentially when results are shared and compared.

Benefits of a Clear Self Image

The clearer my self-image the more effectively I can lead others in a manner that leverages what is unique about me and at the same time compensates for pitfalls my tendencies may create. It removes the burden of being everything in every situation and allows me to be authentically myself while fully realizing the unique qualities of those around me.

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